Don't Go Overboard With Ethics Reform

There's an old joke that Congress does two things: nothing and too much. It seems like the Legislature is being asked to model Congress when it comes to taking on ethics reform. I went to a meeting last night sponsored by Sen. Wayne Niederhauser and outgoing Sen. Carlene Walker where it seems like the audience wanted to morph a simple plan for transparency into some kind of regulatory nightmare replete with loopholes and exceptions.

The meeting started off with a very simple list of things they'd like to accomplish: full disclosure of all gifts, contributions and expenditures; ban campaign funds spent being used for personal expenses; ban using leftover campaign contributions for personal uses; and establish an independent commission to review violations and hear complaints. These are all good ideas that allow for greater transparency and establish simple and easy-to-follow rules. By the end of the meeting, however, there were over 6 sheets of suggestions that the audience had thrown into the mix.

This isn't to say that all of these suggestions were bad. That said, we should try the simple solution first and see if it works. If there are then failings and weaknesses, future legislative sessions can address those with small tweaks. I agree with the Daily Herald's editorial on the matter:there are few instances of actual ethical problems and what instances there are can be solved with the added transparency.

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3 Responses

  1. Reach Upward says:

    Very astute thoughts on this issue. Keep it simple. ‘Nuff said.

  2. glendenb says:

    When I first saw the headline I was worried .. . that changed as I read your post. With ethics reform, we need to simplify the rules and make them both easier to follow and easier to police. I would like to see ethics reform tied to meaningful campaign finance reform – I have long favored a system of clean campaigns such as Arizona uses. Tie the two together and you reduce the incentive for ethics violations as well as the instances of it.

  3. Jesse says:

    I just did some reading on Arizona’s experiment and it does appear to have a lot of positive effects like a lower rate of incumbent victory and higher candidate participation. I’d be concerned, though, with how we finance it and would want to make sure that we avoid creating additional layers of work for candidates.

    I strongly agree that removing the incentives for ethics violations should be top priority. I’m thinking that requiring primaries instead of caucuses could go a long way towards that, especially if independents are allowed to pick which one of the primaries they wish to participate in. Intra-party protectionism seems to keep too many candidates in office for too long.

    All that said, I’d still like to see how the increased transparency works first. After all, why use a hammer when a strong push will do?

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